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A review of Portfolio 7 and TierDeveloper 4.0 Enterprise Edition

Portfolio to store digital assets
Portfolio 7
Cost: $3,499.95/server, $199.95/client, $4,499.95/SQL Connect, $1,999.95
NetPublish Extensis
Portland, Ore.
www.extensis.com
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Portfolio is a Digital Asset Management application, which is to say that it helps organizations keep track of stuff they have stored on computers. One typical market for this sort of thing is creative professionals who manage a collection of photographs, fonts, mockups and publications. But you could store most anything, from PowerPoint slides to source code files.

Portfolio is a client/server app. The Portfolio server keeps track of one or more catalogs of digital assets, and controls who can work with each of them. The clients provide cross-platform (Mac and Windows) access to the server. There are also a couple of glue pieces: a SQL Connect module that allows you to store catalogs on a database server instead of in a disk file, and a NetPublish piece that can quickly move a selection of assets to a Web page.

The installation was straightforward though, but as I wanted to use a SQL Server database, there were a couple of manual steps. The paper documentation lays out the steps clearly, which is definitely nicer than trying to find the usual cryptic readme files. Once up and running, I turned Portfolio loose to catalog a few thousand digital photos. Soon enough, I had a catalog matching my storage structure on the hard drive, with each photo represented by a thumbnail and meta data. It automatically reads common meta data such as the EXIF information in my photos, so the catalog was searchable by things like the date the photo was taken and the F-number.

Adding your own meta data is trivial as well; a few mouse clicks and you can fill in missing fields or add your own keywords. Searching by keywords is lightning fast, at least with SQL Server on the back end. Portfolio also offers a miniature version of the client that lets you quickly find assets and then drag them into programs like Photoshop.

So where’s the developer tie-in here? The answer lies in that SQL back end.

If I’m ever involved in a digital asset management project, I’ll look to this open solution as a good starting point.

Map databases and generate apps
TierDeveloper 4.0 Enterprise Edition
Cost: $1,495
AlachiSoft
San Ramon, Calif.
www.alachisoft.com
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

TierDeveloper is a combined object-relational mapper (it takes care of turning database rows into objects and vice versa) and app generator for .NET. I took a look at the high-end edition of the recently released Version 4.0; there’s also a $595 Professional Edition. The difference is that the Professional Edition supports VB.NET or C#, while the Enterprise Edition supports both, as well as more databases, application types and customizations.

TierDeveloper is pretty simple to use. You start by creating a new project and connecting it to a database. Microsoft Access support is new in this version, but you can use DB2, SQL Server or Oracle databases. Choose the tables that contain the objects, and the operations you want to perform, and TierDeveloper figures out the properties of its own abstract objects. Then you can generate and build a host of different things: core components, a Web GUI, a WinForms GUI, a remote GUI and more. For turning a database into an app with one screen per table, things could scarcely be easier.

Besides Access support, some of the new features in Version 4.0 include:

  • The ability to define new objects and have TierDeveloper generate the DDL to add them to the database. 
  • Custom handling for NULL values. 
  • Customizable GUIs for generated apps via an XML file of meta data. 
  • Schema DDL generation to build a copy of the database for testing. 
  • HTML documentation generation.

As with any app generator, you’ll probably want to customize the end result before you turn users loose on it. However, the generated ASP.NET and WinForms apps are perfectly usable for database administration, and the underlying objects are robust enough to use wherever you’d like them. The quickest way to see whether this can be useful to you is to visit the online demos, and then download a sample copy. You get 30 days to experiment with your own database, which should be enough to decide whether TierDeveloper makes sense in your own work.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

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